1991 business owner: ‘I think what is happening in Richmond is sad’

Posted at 12:41 PM, Aug 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-11 13:37:41-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- May Department stores bought Thalhimer’s in 1990, and closed it just a short while after. May was folded into Federated Department Stores Inc., the owner of Macy’s. This Throwback Thursday corresponds with the closure of 100 more Macy’s nationwide; three have already closed locally.

It was an uphill battle to keep Thalhimer’s in Richmond, but the fight ended in November 1991.

The store claimed $7.5 million in losses and shuttered their anchor location.

The move was a blow to the Richmond administration hoping to revitalize the area.

“To some extent, it is almost like the Grinch who stole Christmas,” said City Manager, Robert Bobb.

Robert Bobb, Richmond City Manager, from 1986-1997.

Robert Bobb, Richmond City Manager, from 1986-1997.

Nearby businesses expressed concern over the closure. And while some did certainly fail, others, like Penny Lane Pub, have survived to see a downtown renaissance.

“Downtown Richmond is going to become a ghost town,” said Rose O’Neill of Penny Lane, in a 1991 interview. “We’ve been here 13 years, and I think what is happening in Richmond is sad.”

Rose O'Neill, of Penny Lane Pub

Rose O'Neill, of Penny Lane Pub

“It is not something that was earth shattering to me,” said the owner of a store next to Thalhimers, “Watch, Pen and Pencil.” It had been open for 50 years and they too had plans to close their doors.

“It was a process that we have to go through…had to happen,” the manager said.

“I think we all have to take experiences like this and improve them for the future,” said Harry Thalhimer, in the 1991 interview.

Back in 1991, with just two hours of notice that Thalhimer’s would be pulling out, the city administration vowed it wouldn’t be the end of retail in downtown Richmond.

Thalhimers announced they would shut down on November 12, 1991

“I just don’t believe that this is the way corporate America deals with localities, and if it is, it was a sad day for localities,” Bobb said at the time.

May Dept. had offered to help Bobb find a new tenant, to which he replied, “that’s like stabbing me in the heart, and then referring me to your heart surgeon.”

But with the closure of Thalhimer’s and Miller & Rhoads, the 6th Street Marketplace – and its 50 some tenants – eventually crumbled.

Many shops along Broad Street still sit empty, though scores of restaurants have opened on a nearby stretch of Grace Street, and vacant buildings have been transformed into condos and apartments.

There are now more feet in a neighborhood that Penny Lane Pub owner Terry O’Neill said used to be dangerous.

O’Neill went through bankruptcy and has kept the pub open, getting by “with the help of my friends.”

“When you got it, you can pay me back,” they told him.

He also contributes the four decades of business to the diehards and the soccer fans.

“We were there when it was nothing,” O’Neill said. “We’ve seen it come and go, and it is getting a lot better.”

“We’ve weathered the storm and we are happy to be here,” he said.

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